The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is an experience unlike any other. As a celebration of unique culture and music, the festival brings the musicians together with their dedicated fans. According to the official Jazz Fest website, "The Festival celebrates the indigenous music and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana, so the music encompasses every style associated with the city and the state: blues, R&B, gospel music, Cajun music, zydeco, Afro-Caribbean, folk music, Latin, rock, rap music, country music, bluegrass and everything in between, and of course there is lots of jazz, both contemporary and traditional.”
This year was the 45th anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. With four days of amazing music, good food, and fantastic weather, it proved once again that The Jazz Fest is more than just music. While there were 12 stages that offered music covering every genre, the festival was a celebration of New Orleans with a unique and recognizable culture that will grow on you.
Each year, the Jazz Fest spans over two weekends. This year, I attended the second. The two main stages, Acura Stage and the Samsung Galaxy Stage, are about a mile apart, so you have to make sure you are always hydrated, suntan lotion on, and good walking shoes to cover as much ground as possible.
I arrived late on Thursday, for the less-crowded, “locals day.” First up were The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Their performance at the main Acura Stage was exciting to watch. The Wailers of the Bob Marley lineage were playing the Congo Square Stage and played a long Reggae set. Lyle Lovett was performing on the Samsung Galaxy Stage, he’s never been my favorite but after hearing the performance with a live band I became a fan. Being a real Southern Gentleman he began his set with "I'm gonna choke my chicken until the sun goes down." That says everything.
On Friday, I was already in a New Orleans state of mind. I stayed in the French Quarter and The Jazz Fest music played until 6am. As word of mouth spreads you learn who the “must sees” are. I kept hearing that I should see Hurray for the Riff Raff. I was impressed with the band’s frontwoman and New Orleans native Alynda Lee Segarra. She showcased powerful lyrics discussing love, death and being aware of her path in live. The next act was Amanda Shaw at the Acura Stage, a great Cajun fiddler and singer who
is a regular at the Fest. Running over to the Congo Square Stage I caught a few songs of Chaka Khan.
I got there just as she commanded to stage—it’s evident why she owns 10 Grammys. Next I had to hear Alejandro Escovedo at the Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-DO Stage. He has been on my list for a while. When he hit the stage a lot of the crowd did not know who he was even though he has been around a while. After a few songs into his Texas rock & roll, the electricity of his music created a substantial draw.
Saturday was the most populated day. But despite the crowds and the heat, everyone was there for the music. The one person I wanted to see was Johnny Winter at the Blues Tent. Johnny Winter is an American blues guitarist, singer and producer. He is best known for his high-energy blues-rock albums and live performances in the late 1960s and '70s. He had to be assisted onto the stage to get to his sitting stool, he looked like he had done his fair share of living the blues, but still was shredding his guitar.
Sunday arrived with not very much sleep for many, including the musicians. There had been a lot of sit in’s of other musicians at local clubs at night like the House of Blues, The Spotted Cat Music Club, and the very well know Tipitina's the night before. Arcade Fire took a political stance and gave a thorough performance. The Bobblehead’s were a representation of a Haitian carnival.
I could not miss John Fogerty, featuring son Shane Fogerty on rhythm guitar so I made my way to the respective stage. John opened strong with "Born on the Bayou" and "Green River." His voice brought you back to CCR days. He explained that he wrote "Who'll Stop the Rain" about Woodstock. "You remind me of it a little bit," he said, taking in the large crowd at the Samsung Galaxy Stage. "Except at Woodstock, everyone was naked and muddy.”
A few other bands worth noting; Johnny Sansome, Alabama Shakes, Voice of the Wetland Allstars, and Foster the People.
Overall, the Festival was exciting, exhausting, and inspiring. Being in the environment of so many talented musicians right in the middle of New Orleans’ culture really made the experience worthwhile.
Words and Photo's by Thomas Long
Note: The Words in Music Connection's "Photo Blog Live Music Reviews" are opinions expressed by the writer/photographer and may not reflect those of Music Connection magazine. To get in contact with a writer/photographer, you may email contactmc[at]musicconnection.com